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Kony Adds to Peace Process Turmoil

Confusion and scepticism greet rebel leader’s calls for a return to negotiations.
By Joe Wacha
Appeals by Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony for renewed peace talks coupled with the overhaul of his negotiation team have only served to cast further doubt over efforts to end the conflict in the north.



In a recent interview with Radio France International, Kony asked that the peace talks, which he has shunned twice in as many months, be restarted.



"I want the peace talks to be resumed in Juba,” Kony was quoted as saying. “I want to go back to [the] table again ... I don't want to fight again because talk can end everything.



"There is going to be peace through negotiations and my message to the people of Uganda is that ... I am the one who started the peace talks, so I am not going to refuse anything. I am going to struggle to make sure that this war is solved."



While Kony’s comments have been welcomed in some quarters, they have also met with scepticism since he failed to show up first in April and then in May to sign a peace agreement that has been negotiated over the past two years, largely in Juba, the capital of south Sudan.



And, in early June, a unit of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, attacked the Nabanga outpost which was occupied by soldiers of the South Sudanese Army, killing nearly 30 people.



Then, as he called for resumption of the peace talks, Kony also announced yet another reshuffling of his negotiating team, which included the reinstatement of the controversial David Matsanga, the former top negotiator who resigned when Kony refused to sign the peace deal.



Matsanga has now replaced Dr James Obita, a widely respected man and former deputy chief negotiator, who took over when Matsanga left the Juba talks in May.



Kony also named some new members to the peace team, including Rwot Oywak Ywakamoi, head of the Okoyo Lalogi, an Acholi clan that previously had not been represented.



But Kony’s new peace team provoked an outcry within LRA ranks, which led to the resignation last week of half of the 13-member peace team.



Leading last week’s walk out was the former member of parliament Santa Okot and Kony’s most recent lawyer, Caleb Alaka of Kampala.



Yusuf Adek and Aruna Ndema, who have been in the negotiations since July 2006, Peter Ongom, Joseph Aywak, Jolly Laker and Aruna Ndema also resigned.



Matsanga’s reinstatement has proved particularly unpopular.



“There is no way I am going to work with Matsanga,” said Adek, the Acholi elder and long-time member of the peace team who reportedly is a confidant of Kony’s.



“You remember [Matsanga] attacked and insulted us,” continued Adek, referring to interviews in which Matsanga accused LRA negotiators of only wanting to be part of the peace team for personal gain.



Other rebel representatives say Matsanga is not committed to peace because of his admission after he left the Juba talks in May that he had rarely, if ever, spoken directly with Kony about the peace agreement and had misled negotiators by saying Kony intended to sign it.



Walter Ochora, the government’s resident district commissioner for Gulu, said the frequent changes in the LRA peace delegation means Kony is still not committed to the peace process. “He is just not serious,” said Ochora, who is a frequent critic of Kony.



Ochora, who said he is in contact with Kony, insisted the rebel leader needed to put his signature to the peace agreement or face a war with the Ugandan government, “He has to sign or risk being attacked.”



Although Kampala has said it is planning a joint military action with the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, and South Sudan against Kony, this appears increasingly unlikely.



The DRC has not agreed to let Uganda re-enter the country, despite the presence of Kony’s camp in Congo’s Garamba National Park, which is not far from the border with South Sudan.



Likewise, South Sudan’s vice president, Riek Machar, who has been the talks’ chief mediator, this week accused the Ugandan army of attacking civilians in South Sudan on the pretext of pursuing LRA units reportedly on their way to Uganda. That accusation was later retracted and the attack was blamed on the LRA, but indicates the delicate nature of relations between the two countries.



Machar said that the South Sudan army is on alert with orders to attack any armed groups in the region.



People in northern Uganda, meanwhile, say they’re impatient with Kony’s endless manoeuvres and procrastination.



“I am certainly not happy at the delay, but there isn’t much to do,” said Mary Awor, one of nearly two million people who have been displaced by 20 years of fighting in the north. “All we can pray for is that he signs the peace pact and makes peace.”



“We are so fed up with this on-and-off style of the talks, and yet we still [want] his signature on the peace agreement,” said Bosco Epila, another of the north’s internal refugees.



Captain Chris Magezi, the spokesman of the Uganda peace team, said the authorities were in no mood reopen negotiations, “The Uganda government welcomes Kony's statement calling for peaceful means to end the war, but he should know that negotiations between the LRA and us ended and a final peace agreement fully endorsed by his negotiators is ready."



"We are not going to engage in any more negotiations with Kony or his representatives. We expect him to come to sign the agreement."



Joe Wacha is an IWPR contributor in Gulu.



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